We all have our pet peeves, but have you ever wondered about the annoying things you do that your friends, family and strangers are too polite to tell you about? I have, and I decided to do something about it.
Photo by Dimitar Nikolov.
It's easy to talk about self-improvement, but in reality we're not that adept at seeing our own faults. The problem is that most people aren't going to tell you when you're doing something wrong until it gets to a point where they don't want to hang around you anymore.
I'm the type who's easily annoyed, so I assume most of my friends and family are as well. It's also no secret that humans as a race have a lot of pet peeves, whether it's at the office, on a mobile phone, or in a restaurant.
To find out how I could be annoying the people around me, I wanted to open up a dialogue where friends and strangers could give me a performance review to help me pinpoint when I'm being an arsehole and actually do something about it. Here's how I did it, and how you can do the same.
Gather Critiques Anonymously From Friends, Family And Strangers
First we'll collect the data in the form of an anonymous poll and coffee meetups before getting to the hard part of actually making the changes.
For the bulk of my friends and associates, I figured the best way to open up the dialogue was through an anonymous service. The easiest way to do this was through the previously mentioned webapp Failin.gs, a service that allows me to anonymously poll my friends and family online.
Failin.gs is simple to use. First you set up an account and link it to your Facebook or Twitter profile. Then you can set the privacy level in one of two ways: the default view, where everyone can see the feedback you receive, or private, where no one sees other people's comments. I chose private because I wanted people to feel comfortable knowing nobody except me could see their responses.
When your account is set up, you'll get a direct link that you can share on Facebook, Twitter or directly by email. Once my account was created, I shared the link through Facebook and email and explained that I was looking to find how I accidentally upset people. To step things up a notch, I also decided to make small cards to hand out to servers and bartenders over the weekend. The cards aren't a necessary step for most people, but I've always wanted to know what type of customer I am.
When the week is up you'll hopefully have a collection of critiques from people you're close to and some you don't know at all. I had 23 different responses ranging from the easy-to-remedy "You tipped well and were polite. But you muttered your order and didn't speak clearly, to the more complex "Most of the time you're fine, but sometimes you split without saying goodbye or saying anything to anyone." The information you get is really helpful and we'll go through how to work through it below, but first we're going to collect another round of data.
Schedule a Coffee Break to Talk it Out
For close friends, family or your boss you might want to skip the anonymity and do it face to face. You can think of this in the exact same way as a performance review from work. I talked with two close friends and I came up with a set of guidelines to keep the discussion productive:
- Ask them to keep it actionable: The one way this whole process can go horribly wrong is if people attack you for things outside your control. Most good friends should know that when you're asking for some help you don't need to hear about how they're annoyed because your feet are too big, but make it clear from the start what you're looking for.
- Ask them to offer solutions with the critique: In addition to keeping it actionable, ask for help finding a solution too. The whole point of figuring out where and how you're accidentally being a jerk to people is to make it so you can improve on those aspects.
- Listen and don't talk: Finally, don't talk during this process. You're going to want to spend a lot of time explaining or defending yourself. Shut up and listen to what your friends tell you.
In both cases, the critiques I received echoed the anonymous critiques from Failin.gs, but I also got a more a little more information to work on a plan of attack. If all went well on both steps, you're probably feeling a little crappy about yourself. This is a good thing. Now it's time to fix those silly problems. Photo by tom stovall.
Take the Critiques and Turn Them into Actionable Improvements
The point of all this is to accumulate a rounded third-person perspective of who you are. Many of your arsehole qualities will likely be critiques you've always known about yourself, but you probably learnt a few new quirks as well. The first step is to decide whether the feedback you received is worth your time and then throw it into a category. These categories might be something like habits, personality quirks and direct arsehole moves. Let's take a look at a few of mine.
Pick Out and Categorise the Critiques You Want to Tackle
Out of the 23 different comments, four of mine dealt directly with my inability to make and stick with social plans. These included critiques like "It's hard to get you to do anything during the day on weekends" and "Sometimes you'll make plans and bail at the last minute". These are absolutely true in my case, so I stored them in the direct arsehole section.
Another repeated critique dealt with the fact I rarely show emotion and look grumpy most of the time. This one goes in the quirks section alongside a waiter's comment that I mumbled my orders.
I also had two people complain about a weird habit I didn't know about. Apparently when I'm bored I stroke my facial hair (when I have facial hair) like some type of maniacal crazy person. I'd prefer not to look crazy, so this one goes into the habits section.
Continue this through every critique you gathered. Take a good hard look at each suggestion and decide what really matters to you. You shouldn't care too much what people think of you, so only take suggestions you want to work on.
Pick Your Improvements and Take Them On One at a Time
In a lot of cases, your accidental rudeness is remedied by the simple fact it was pointed out to you. My repeated cancellation of plans, for instance, is something I just need to be mindful of moving forward. This, along with my grumpy demeanour, need to sit in the back of my mind so I pay attention to them and correct them slowly over time.
It's also important to know what to ignore. Some of the critiques you receive will be wrong, and others will be little things that aren't worth worrying about. For instance, one person mentioned that I always try to order first at restaurants. This is simply not true, especially when you look at another comment that says I'm often too polite and don't take the initiative when ordering food. The fact is sometimes a single situation will stand out for someone, and while they're worth considering, you don't have to beat yourself up over them.
Habits are a different beast. If you're doing something repeatedly that's annoying or bothering people, you need to come up with an actual plan of attack. We've talked before about how to break bad habits, and you want to take the same approach here. The nice part is that since you went through this process, your habits are already a public affair. The next step is to slowly taper off doing them. In my case, this just means slapping my hand away from my face when I twist my beard and trying to implement a new habit of actually socialising with people on the weekends.
In the end it's about being mindful of yourself when you're around other people. The type of critiques offered by your friends will help you not just stop accidentally being a jerk, but also help you improve yourself in ways you may have never thought of before. Being an arsehole is one thing, but being an accidental arsehole is never fun.
How about you, do you feel like you ever accidentally stir up people's pet peeves without even knowing it? Do you feel like you should correct it? Let us know in the comments below.